Skewed facts paint inaccurate picture. Letter to the editor

Editorial from The News Herald newspapers:

SOUTHPORT
Just as I spoke out during the public hearings on the lease of Bay Medical Center, my involvement in the Rescue Mission controversy is simply to ensure that people with no voice have someone speaking up for them. When the power of government, at any level, is turned against private citizens, we should all demand an open debate to determine whether the actions are justified.

I have been involved in this debate for something like a year and a half. I withdrew my first letter to the editor on the subject of the Rescue Mission because it was written in anger. I resubmitted it in a more respectful tone, but the message has obviously not had the desired impact. What I have observed since that first letter has been the venting of strong emotions by some, an expression of opinion by others, an ever-changing strategy, (principally, by the major of Panama City and Commissioner Kady), but few facts directly relate to the Rev. Fox and our mission.

I do not speak for the Rev. Fox and the mission’s board of directors. They are quite capable of speaking for themselves. My intent is to speak for the clients of the mission. These are children of the same God who has blessed the rest of us so abundantly.

If you have followed the evolution of this controversy, you should have a clear understanding of the facts. In case you are not up to speed, they are as follows:
The mission has provided an invaluable service in the downtown area for 40 years.

After the mall was built, the downtown business district has had its challenges. I have witnessed noble efforts, and the associated results, to meet those challenges for the past 25 years.

The mayor and the City Council, for their own reasons, want the Rescue Mission to relocate.

Certain elements have turned public opinion against a private organization, damaging the reputation of the mission and causing financial harm.
The city proposed a new, government-funded resource center to incorporate the services of the Rescue Mission at a new location.

The city passed a nuisance ordinance aimed at causing further harm, along with a threat of using the ordinance as a vehicle to seize their property.
The mayor invokes the plight of homeless veterans to win support for his agenda.

The proposed location of the new resource center is opposed by nearby residents. The land purchase was wisely made contingent upon the Rescue Mission’s agreement to be incorporated into the new facility.

The Rescue Mission’s board declined to participate.

The transient population began increasing four years ago and, subsequently, began to decline about a year ago.

The transient population is a subculture within our society that operates regardless of the mission’s outreach. While the meals provided might help to support the transients, they are attracted to areas where the population is either very generous or easily intimidated. The problem does not go away simply by relocating our mission.

It is my opinion that the city has gone about its “mission” in the wrong way, and that it would do well to regroup and extend an olive branch to the Rev. Fox and board members of the Rescue Mission. Contrary to what some have claimed, I am confident that the mission at this point would be more interested in an apology more than anything else.

In conclusion, my research has revealed that only 5 percent of the Rescue Mission’s funding is received directly from churches. As we are in the midst of the Christmas season, and many worthwhile causes compete for our dollars, I would challenge every pastor of every local church to urge his members who have jobs and a home to send just $1 per month to our Rescue Mission. If that were to happen, then I believe we would witness an even greater number of lives transformed by the message and the efforts provided by our mission.

Steve Hough, Southport Florida

http://www.newsherald.com/opinions/letters-to-the-editor/panama-city-should-rethink-strategy-on-rescue-mission-1.67501

Mr. Hough, Your analysis although extensive on the surface is plagued with inaccurate information that ultimately has skewed your story about the Rescue Mission, its effects on downtown and what our community needs to do to move forward. Lets get into your editorial piece and straighten out the facts:

 

The mission has provided an invaluable service in the downtown area for 40 years”. True..except that over that 40 years, board of directors have changed, hired management staff have changed and more importantly the direction of the mission has changed in a way that has now created an organization that operates as a big business, utilizing multi-million dollar budgets, powerful marketing efforts and processes multiple fold more “clients” to use your term than what was every envisioned as the role of the PCRM during its planning stage forty years ago. This expansion of services past the original mandate  has created a negative impact on the surrounding community neighboring the Panama City Rescue Mission. This fact can be verified by a simple review of police reports, lowered property values and business receipts from businesses located near the mission.

 

After the mall was built, the downtown business district has had its challenges. I have witnessed noble efforts, and the associated results, to meet those challenges for the past 25 years.” True again. Many downtown communities across the nation experienced the same phenomenon that our city saw with the changes in shopping habits of consumers. Twenty five years ago downtown merchants got caught with their pants down not reacting to the change and making adjustments to compensate for the exodus of retail traffic. The great irony in that is that the mall you speak of is experiencing the same dynamic with lessened retail traffic as consumers are off to the newest and brightest shopping experience, Pier Park.  But unlike you in many of your previous online post, there are many in our community that see the value in downtown and the potential that it has to become something exciting and unique. With just a little research on your part, you would find literally hundreds of examples of older downtowns that with some hard work, creative thinking  and commitment have transformed their communities. Part of the hard work is to recognize ALL the problems and be willing to make a commitment to solving those problems no matter how challenging or controversial they may be. Eliminating a vagrancy problem that a noted expert on Homelessness characterized as “off the charts” and ten fold to cities of similar demographics is a KEY problem that must be addressed and conquered in order to move forward.

 

The mayor and the City Council, for their own reasons, want the Rescue Mission to relocate.” Here you are going wayward. This is not the mayor or city commissioners conspiring to do anything other than answer to the needs of the community at large. Lowering the impact of the mission on the downtown community is what the constituents who have voted for these local officials have voiced for them to do. The Rescue mission has snubbed their nose at our community when all we have asked is for them to not create a public nuisance. They have refused to do so. Local governments role is to address problems as they affect the whole community and provide solutions.

 

Certain elements have turned public opinion against a private organization, damaging the reputation of the mission and causing financial harm.” There are no certain elements, only citizens, property owners and small businesses that pay taxes and want nothing more than you Mr. Hough, the chance to have a neighborhood where their children can be safe and a  place they can open and operate prosperous small businesses. This has become more and more challenging as the effects of the PCRM have permeated our community. As far as “damaged reputations”, many could point any damage directly back at the PCRM who have been quite confrontational with its neighbors and done nothing to lessen the impact of their facility on the surrounding area.

 

The city proposed a new, government-funded resource center to incorporate the services of the Rescue Mission at a new location.” Your facts are intentionally quite misleading. When you throw in the word “government funded” your intent is to scare all those of us who are committed to having our government be good custodian of our tax dollars. The reality is that the new proposed facility will operate with just a small fraction of its total operating budget coming through tax dollar programs. As a side note, the rescue mission on their own website  says they use “no direct taxpayers money”. The key word that is being sneaked in there is DIRECT. What they are not quite so forthcoming with is the fact that they DO actually receive quite a bit of tax payer money through other agencies that DIRECTLY take tax payer funds and redistribute them to organizations like the PCRM. This additional layer of transfer of money gives the allusion that they are not using tax money when in fact they really are.

 

The city passed a nuisance ordinance aimed at causing further harm, along with a threat of using the ordinance as a vehicle to seize their property.” WOW! ..”a vehicle to seize property”?!? This is so far off base it would be comical if the accusation were not so serious. Are you really implying that the city commissioners have enacted much needed nuisance ordinances just to take property? Here is a better alternative for you.  The city has enacted nuisance ordinances because the PCRM has done a poor job of eliminating their own nuisance.  It could probably be easily stated that the PCRM has no intentions of taking the required actions to lower the nuisance.

 

The mayor invokes the plight of homeless veterans to win support for his agenda.” You have taken one sentence out of a whole philosophy of the problem that Mayor Brudnikci has shared with the community as to the nature of the problem and how it effects our community. This extreme abbreviation of the complete story on your part is both unfair and counterproductive to moving the city toward solutions.

 

The proposed location of the new resource center is opposed by nearby residents. The land purchase was wisely made contingent upon the Rescue Mission’s agreement to be incorporated into the new facility.” Partially true…. As of today, there are many in the neighborhood of the new proposed facility are in fact quite upset over the potential of the new facility being located near their neighborhood. Much of the opposition is due to lack of understanding of what the dynamics are of the new facility. Those of us who live downtown who have lived with the effects of the PCRM would stand arm in arm with our neighbors if the new facility were nothing more than the PCRM relocated. We would not wish a facility like the PCRM on any of our neighbors. But the new facility with its multiple agencies and resources is designed to be quite different in its operations, being respectful of neighboring communities. The land purchase is contingent on the participation of the PCRM. But Mr. Hough as one who seems to enjoy a good conspiracy theory, ask this question. Why would the city commissioners move forward with a vote on the property knowing the task force made up of twenty six people, the bay resource center board of directors, the lead members and supporting staff of over twenty charitable, civic and governmental agencies..easily over 100 people  all on board and then not have the rescue mission on board as well, knowing that a requirement for the facility to move forward was the PCRM to sign on ? Perhaps it is because the commissioners were given affirmation from the rescue mission that they were on board allowing the commissioner to launch the details to the community as a unified effort. PCRM at the last moments draws back their commitment to participation endangering progress of the new facility. This could easily be imagined as being done by design. What better way to pull the plug on a new alternative  facility that gives our community additional options than throwing a wrench in the system?

 

 

The transient population began increasing four years ago and, subsequently, began to decline about a year ago.” Statistics are a funny thing. Nationally the numbers according to the National Coalition for the Homeless don’t match by any standard the information you have offered in your commentary. But those numbers actually are irrelevant to the discussion. A more important statistic as it effects our community is that our homeless population is TEN FOLD what it should be by population.

 

The transient population is a subculture within our society that operates regardless of the mission’s outreach. While the meals provided might help to support the transients, they are attracted to areas where the population is either very generous or easily intimidated. The problem does not go away simply by relocating our mission.” Your facts are a bit twisted consequently your conclusions are skewed. A bit of research on your part of best practices of the homeless advocacy community may help you. The transient population is not monolithic. A snap shot of 100 people classified as homeless will give you 100 people all with different problems requiring different solutions. “Outreach” is effective when multiple types of services are available from a variety of different organizations that each have unique skill sets and resources to provide needed services. Contrary to your point, the transient, homeless, panhandling and vagrancy problem DOES go ways when facilities are moved. There is even statistical data that proves this happens in DAYS as the basic needs of the individual… food, bedding, safety, are no longer available in close proximity to the previous location.

 

It is my opinion that the city has gone about its “mission” in the wrong way, and that it would do well to regroup and extend an olive branch to the Rev. Fox and board members of the Rescue Mission.” Contrary to what some have claimed, I am confident that the mission at this point would be more interested in an apology more than anything else.” Why exactly would you think that the PCRM is deserving of ANY olive branch when they have been the ones that have created the problem and in a most arrogant fashion have refused to become part of the solution? If there are any olive branches or apologizes that need to be extended, it should be Billy Fox and every single board member who should apologize  by jumping on board and participating in the design, implementation and operation of a new facility that will better serve the needs of our community.

 

I would challenge every pastor of every local church to urge his members who have jobs and a home to send just $1 per month to our Rescue Mission“. A better option would be to support the Bay Area resource center with your donation dollars or any other of a host of charitable, religious and civic based organizations that provide needed services but do it in a way that is responsible to the community they serve. 

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3 Comments

  1. Steve Shadoan

     /  December 20, 2012

    I have long argued that the mission does not need to be as large as it is. We have multiple agencies here in Bay county quite capable of handling what should be the number of homeless population for our area. The rescue mission, under the direction of billy fox, has become a multi-milion dollar business that goes so far as to advertise in multiple other states to attract “clients” to boost the numbers. If we did not advertise and bring in people from all over the country, I do not believe we would be facing most of the issues and problems we are currently experiencing. Billy fox himself described the mission as the premier destination for homeless people in not only Florida but also Georgia, Alabama and the southeast in general. When the mission opened bethel village, billy fox was asked :How do we know that in a year or two you won’t change direction and want to bring all that mess downtown out here to Springfield? He looked us right in the eye and said ‘That will never happen” I was sitting at the table and know this happened. He denied this when they in fact began their bid to change bethel village from the original woman’s shelter. I say this to support my next statement. billy fox is not to be taken at his word. He should be made to prove his claims and not allowed to use false or skewed fact and statistics.

    Reply
    • Roger

       /  December 21, 2012

      I agree. In principle, however, now after January 1st. all the chonic homeless as Rev. Fox calls them will have nowhere to go, except all over our downtown. Now we are really going to find out how serious and troublesome this problem is. Now that they cannot “hang out” at the mission as they appear to do, they will have no choice but to wander the streets. Doesn’t anyone see the can of worms we have opened. The resource center is potentially years away; they do not even have funding for the land now, even if they can find a suitable location. Then on top of that how does putting it in a location where it is unaccessable, like
      Starr Ave, help. Clearly this population will not opt to go somewhere where there are no resouces, let alone jobs or anything else. What a mess!!!

      Reply
    • Roger

       /  December 22, 2012

      @Steve Shadoan. You are right, not only does the mission not need to be as large as it is, it needs to return to basics and be about really addressing the problems this population faces. And how does the leadership (Mr. and Mrs. Fox) justify combined salaries that make them millionaires. How does this fly given the nature of the issues they are supposed to be addressing, which are often largely based in abject poverty and despair. Not much to despair about when you have a 7 figure income in your household I bet. How out of touch they must be and perhaps this speaks to the heart of the matter.

      Reply

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